‘I don’t know how I’m doing’

How does it affect you as a person when you have been living in an overcrowded refugee camp for the past 18 months? And, let’s not forget, when you have seen the most awful things in your home country Syria? Because you drove your car in the streets, to pick up people who had been injured. One of which was your little brother…

Unfortunately, Nadir (23) knows exactly how this affects you. For too long now he has been living in camp Moria. One of our volunteers, Petra Langezaal (56), got to know him quite well. One year ago she was on Lesvos for a month. Nadir stood out. “He was a handsome young man”, says Petra. “He took good care of himself. His hair was always styled and he had healthy skin. Without prompting, he told me his story. About his little brother whom he found in the streets, among the violence of war. At every medical post Nadir brought him, they said his brother’s leg had to be amputated. Something Nadir tried to prevent. Luckily, there was a doctor who did want to operate on his brother, resulting in conservation of the leg. Despite his horrible experiences, Nadir was mostly cheerful. He seemed like a puppy sometimes, the way he would run around the camp and train his muscles on the tent poles. A wonderful guy who was very valuable to the team of interpreters in the camp. The interpreters are the indispensable link between the inhabitants and the employees. Apart from translation work, they set refugees at ease and are fully committed to their work for the volunteers. This way, we could our work properly and in a safe way. Terrific people, Nadir was proud to do this”, says Petra.

Yet that’s when it became November 2017. Petra came to Moria as a volunteer for the second time. And she met Nadir again. “I immediately noticed things were different. He had been living on Lesvos for at least 18 months by then. His skin and hair were pale and limp. Gone was the sparkle in his eyes, he was really anxious and threw furtive glances. He recognized me as well and when I asked him how he was doing, he looked at me and said: ‘I don’t know how I’m doing’…”

And Petra understood. She was also shocked by the conditions in Moria. She was hoping to see some improvement, but the opposite was the case. Inhumane. Overcrowded. Grim. “Living in these conditions with so many people for such a long time. That grates on you. It’s inevitable. Nadir is living proof of that for me. It’s all taking too long. There is little left of his dreams to leave the camp. ‘You know Petra’, he said to me. ‘If I were to get the message that I can leave, to go on to Athens… I don’t know if I would. This has become my world. I’m not sure if I can make it anywhere else.’ His hopes have been completely whipped out. And I don’t blame him…”

If needed, Petra wants to return to Moria. “But I hope I won’t run into Nadir again. Because he has found the power, once again, to believe in a new future.”


Text: Frieda van de Geest